- Site Feedback
- IDEA Sites
- Digital Freedoms
- International Justice
- 2012 Presidential Debates Guide
- Asia Youth Forum
- Big Apple Cogers
- Debate Changing Europe
- Debate in the Neighborhood
- Debating and Producing Media
- Debating the Future of Youth in Africa and Europe
- Dialogue without borders
- Digital Debating Blog
- Free Speech Debate
- Global Youth Forum
- Global Debate and Public Policy Challenge
- International Public Policy Forum
- MENA Regional Youth forum
- Online Mentoring
- Securing Liberty Series
- Youth and Sports Mega-Events
- League of Young Voters
This house Believes People Should Not Keep Pets
This house Believes People Should Not Keep Pets
Humans, as a natural part of the animal kingdom, have interacted with the animals around them for the entirety of their existence. One of the defining characteristics of the human race is that we developed the ability to domesticate and eventually tame other species for our use. The first evidence of a close relationship between humans and animals can be traced as far back as 20,000 years ago1, when human beings and wolves would hunt the same animals for food. Around 12,000 years ago this relationship developed into the domestication of dogs as a separate species from wolves through selective breeding to choose those individuals who were most obedient and less likely to harm their human keepers. It is this process which created the initial bond between humans and dogs that extended beyond their use for hunting and was the necessary foregrounding for keeping pets in general. Dogs appear to have been with early humans in many different parts of the world - the domestication of cats on the other hand was rather more localised. The Ancient Egyptians first bred wild cats 5000 years ago to eventually produce the domestic cats we know today. Other people around the world seem to have tamed many sorts of animals as companions and pets, from goldfish and birds to monkeys and reptiles, and the isolation of these instances suggests that it is an intrinsic human quality to tame animals beyond the role of hunting. Despite the vast popularity of pet ownership, especially in more economically developed countries, the question still remains as to whether the practice should be continued.
|Points For||Points Against|
|The keeping of pets results in a huge drain on resources that could be put to better use.||Many of these animals would not survive without being looked after.|
|As well as the risk to health of the animals, keeping pets can be damaging to human health.||Humanity would impact on the lives of these animals no matter where they lived.|
|Keeping pets is a violation of animal rights.||The negative implications of pet ownership are generally caused by the humans, not the animals.|
|Keeping pets, especially those of a more exotic species, is unnatural and detrimental to the welfare of the animals.|
Remember to choose a winning argument!
The keeping of pets results in a huge drain on resources that could be put to better use.
According to the Pet Food Manufacturers Association (PFMA), there are around 8 million dogs and 8 million cats in the UK alone in 20111. These vast numbers equate to almost half the households in the country owning a pet, and ownership requires feeding, medical care, the dedication of a considerable amount of time and of course, waste disposal. In an economic climate in which food prices are rising at unprecedented levels2 the question must be asked as to whether we can afford to look after so many animals. Of course, the impact isn't just on the people - in America the recession has hit pet owners very hard, and this has lead to increased instances of abandonment and mistreatment3. There is also the wider humanitarian question to consider - with the amount of money spent on looking after pets in comparison to the lack of aid being sent to the poorest nations.
1 Statistics for UK pet ownership:accessed 11/06/11
2 BBC News article on rising food prices:accessed 11/06/11
3 BBC News article "Furry victims of the recession", Katie Connolly, 21 August 2010: accessed 11/06/11
The idea of controlling what people are allowed to spend their money on raises serious moral questions in itself. However in the case of keeping pets, it would be a better use of resources than, for instance, buying a more expensive car or any other luxury item. The difference with owning a pet is the level of commitment required given the rising cost of food and veterinary bills. The burden of responsibility lies with the owner, and if they make the choice to take on a pet and are able to do so then fundamentally that has to be allowed. There is also another side to the economic argument, as because there are so many pets in the world it has created a huge industry in food, leisure and other ancillary produce. If keeping pets were to be banned, all the people involved in these industries would lose their jobs, further worsening the economic situation.Improve this
As well as the risk to health of the animals, keeping pets can be damaging to human health.
Diseases that can be transferred between animals and humans are called "zoonoses"1. The list of these diseases is long and varied, and they are often transferred by a subsidiary medium - a parasite like a flea or tick. The risk of contracting these diseases is greatly increased by living in close proximity to the animal carriers, a fact made more significant when we consider the seriousness of some of the diseases. Recent worldwide pandemic alerts have come as a result of zoonosis2, so surely it is a sensible idea to remove the threat of disease from within people's homes.
1 Information on avian influenza: accessed 11/06/11
2 Example of animal related pandemic: accessed 11/06/11
That recent world flu pandemics have come as a result of zoonosis has little to do with the keeping of pets. The World Health Organisation (WHO) advise that "slaughter, defeathering, handling carcasses of infected poultry, and preparing poultry for consumption... are likely to be risk factors"1 - none of these activities are involved in keeping pets. Diseases are generally only transmitted in working environments, and animals that are kept as pets are kept in better health and are less likely to carry disease than wild animals. Even the parasites that transfer the diseases from animal to human can be controlled2, so the potential for disease does not seem a strong enough reason for preventing the keeping of pets. Pets like cats can actually be advantageous in fighting disease, as they can catch and kill other animals which may carry infection.
1Information on avian influenza: accessed 11/06/11
2 Information on the control of parasites: accessed 11/06/11
Keeping pets is a violation of animal rights.
This debate raises questions about the similarities and differences between human beings and other animals. An article in the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy argues that "humans are morally considerable because of the distinctively human capacities we possess, capacities that only we humans have"1. If this is the case, then should we apply our unique morality to animals who have no consideration of it - should we be able to decide to keep them in an unnatural environment that they have no understanding of? Many animal rights groups would argue that "Pets are our property. Dogs, cats, hamsters, rabbits, and other animals are mass produced like bolts"2 and that this is wrong. Living creatures deserve the basic rights which captivity denies even though they may have no moral comprehension of their experiences. It is up to human beings, who do have an awareness of these factors, to ensure that these rights are maintained. Beyond this there is the issue of tampering with evolution to change the appearance of animals for our enjoyment. In some countries, cats are declawed and dogs have their tails docked (cut off) to make them easier to sell - both cruel and painful processes. This interference with the natural process of evolution is morally wrong and in many cases cruel to the animals in question.
1 Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on "The Moral Status of Animals" First published Tue Jul 1, 2003; substantive revision Mon Sep 13, 2010:accessed 11/06/11
2 Argument against pets as property in "Animal Rights - The Abolitionist Approach, Commentary 2, Pets", by Gary L. Francione, 12 August 2009: accessed 11/06/11
The keeping of pets is born out of something totally natural. It is a blind misconception to assume that humans are somehow 'outside' of the natural world - we coexist with the life around us. In the vast majority of cases, the welfare of the animals kept as pets is vastly improved, they are kept safe, healthy and in a social environment, despite the difference in species. The positives to keeping pets are demonstrated by numerous campaigns for adoption and re-homing1. If keeping pets was detrimental to the animals, then animal welfare organisations such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) would not encourage it as a practice. Even exotic animals can be kept in conditions which are in no way detrimental to their health, although in these cases careful regulation is required to ensure that the people are able to look after the animals properly. If they are, then having exotic pets is one way of protecting animals which are at risk in the wild - especially those which are hunted for sport or for tradable resources like their skins.Improve this
Keeping pets, especially those of a more exotic species, is unnatural and detrimental to the welfare of the animals.
Anything beyond the initial taming of animals for protection and hunting is unnatural. Most of the animal species that we keep as pets cannot be 'domesticated' - they are simply wild animals in captivity. Especially in the case of birds, keeping them as pets greatly limits the experience they would have in the wild, and as Monica Engebretsen argues for Born Free USA, "Birds are routinely denied two of their most fundamental natural behaviors — flying and socialization. Denial of these activities can cause physical and behavioral abnormalities including incessant screaming, pacing, head-bobbing, feather-plucking, and self-mutilation”1. From a basic animal welfare point of view then, many animals which are currently kept as pets are not suited to that lifestyle, and the fact that they are often suffering for no other reason than human gratification is reason enough to stop this from happening. This is also a problem that is growing rather than receding, as zoo vet and government inspector Matt Brash points out: “There is a big problem out there. There are an awful lot of exotics in the country. A lot of them are not being kept properly"2. These animals are not only being kept in unsuitable conditions which damages their health, but they are also a serious risk to any humans they come into contact with.
Keeping pets is a complicated task that many people are not prepared for. There are many ways in which people do not properly look after their animals, either by giving them inappropriate treatment or an inappropriate environment1. Dogs, for example, are pack animals that need companionship, but they are often kept singly and left during the day as a result of the work-oriented nature of modern society. Because of this, the contact time and enjoyment people get out of owning pets is perhaps out of proportion with the negative impacts on the animals - they are often seen more as objects than living creatures. Daniel Morgan makes the point in a debate in The Guardian, that "a pet is a kind of ornament - the best ornament you can have because not only is it (usually) very aesthetically pleasing, it moves around the home of its own accord, it is warm and smooth to the touch, and it responds to our presence and keeps us company"2.Improve this
Many of these animals would not survive without being looked after.
We have already established the vast numbers of pets which are alive and in generally good care in countries like the UK. What would happen to these animals if keeping pets were to be banned? Beyond the UK the numbers are equally staggering, with 621 million European households containing pets, and 82 million cats and 64 million dogs in the USA as of 20092. Through the process of selective breeding many of the variants of these animals are now not suitable for survival in the wild - and of course there is no natural habitat large enough to support such vast numbers. Logistically then, preventing people from keeping pets is completely impractical and would result in the deaths of many millions of animals which are currently living in good conditions.
1 Statistics for European pet ownership: accessed 11/06/11
2 Statistics for USA pet ownership: accessed 11/06/11
Many of those variants that would not survive in the wild are already at risk because of the actions of human beings. There are numerous health risks associated with interbreeding of animals from the same gene pool, resulting in predictable medical conditions and poor quality of life1. How long can this go on before it is deemed 'too cruel' - perhaps stopping the selective breeding industry now will create a better future for animals by preventing problems that we know are going to arise from the practice. Most pets (especially animals like cats) are fully capable of surviving in the wild, and although the numbers involved are an issue, a progressive prevention of intentional breeding, as promoted by the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)2, might allow for a controllable situation for the future.
1Information on the problems of selective breeding: accessed 11/06/11
2 PETA argument for pet control and animal welfare: accessed 11/06/11
Humanity would impact on the lives of these animals no matter where they lived.
The success of the human species on planet Earth has led to our domination of almost every environment whether or not people agree with it. This creates a question - where then could these animals exist if not with us? Keeping pets is one way in which animals that are not useful to humans for food or hunting still have value. If anything keeping pets helps to maintain species whose habitat has been taken over by humans and who would, without the moral attachment of pets, have been wiped out as a result. This helps maintain the diversity of the planet at a time when we are already driving many species to extinction, the loss rate is 1,000 times the background rate suggested by fossil records before humans1. It is therefore right that humans should be protecting some species and even encouraging their diversity.Improve this
The argument against keeping pets on animal rights grounds cannot be universally applied. The problem stems from a much wider philosophical debate over how far an awareness of morality moves us away from other animals that do not have this awareness. On the one hand it can be argued that because we have a greater understanding, we have some sort of moral duty to uphold the rights of animals, but on the other we must recognise that we still exist as part of the natural world, and whether aware of morality or not we are at a basic level animals who have evolved to be able to control other animals. This control does not simply amount to 'property ownership' - as we have established we have a moral awareness that means we can own something and attach to it greater significance than it would otherwise have, simply by virtue of the fact we care about it. If pets are property simply because we choose what happens to them then it follows logically that children are property, and in an extended sense, the entire world is the property of the human race simply by virtue of the fact that, if we so wished, we could destroy it. This argument therefore doesn't offer a useful contribution to this debate - upholding animal rights does not prevent you from keeping a pet, their rights are affected by the treatment of that animal from a human perspective and it is only in the case of mistreatment in which the animal is no longer living what William Frankena calls "not so much the morally good life as the happy or satisfactory life"1.
Similarly, the practice of selective breeding only really becomes an issue when it begins to affect the quality of life of the animals. The practice of tail docking was initially carried out to prevent the dogs from getting injured when out hunting - now if the dog is kept only as a pet this is an unnecessary practice. Certain breeds have characteristics that suit the lifestyles of certain individuals - surely it is morally better to keep an animal that does not need a lot of exercise to be happy if you work long hours. People have only recently become aware of the negative effects of selective breeding, and in these problems do not apply to the concept of keeping pets, only to the moral duties taken on when choosing to do so.Improve this
The negative implications of pet ownership are generally caused by the humans, not the animals.
It would be unfair to deprive those who look after their pets of the enjoyment and fulfilment they receive, simply because a minority do not look after their animals correctly, or do not keep animals which are suitable as pets. In cases where people do neglect their responsibilities there are punishments in place1, and this practice should continue to discourage those who might mistreat their pets in the future. For most people, pets make up a part of their family that has a genuine emotional connection just as one would have to a human family member. To deny people this would be unfair to both the animals who receive care and affection and the people who provide it.Improve this
Statistics for first animal-human interaction: accessed 10/06/11
Example of organisation set up to promote the keeping of pets (RSPCA): accessed 10/06/11
Argument "Should birds be kept as pets?", Monica Engebretson, 06 November 2009:accessed 10/06/11
Article "East Yorkshire vet concerned over rise in exotic pets", Linsey Smith, 11 February 2011: accessed 10/06/11
Information on zoonosis:accessed 11/06/11
Example of animal related pandemic: accessed 11/06/11
Information on avian influenza: accessed 11/06/11
Information on the control of parasites: accessed 11/06/11
accessed 11/06/11 Statistics for UK pet ownership:
BBC News article on rising food prices:accessed 11/06/11
BBC News article "Furry victims of the recession", Katie Connolly, 21 August 2010: accessed 11/06/11
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on "The Moral Status of Animals" First published Tue Jul 1, 2003; substantive revision Mon Sep 13, 2010:accessed 11/06/11
Argument against pets as property in "Animal Rights - The Abolitionist Approach, Commentary 2, Pets", by Gary L. Francione, 12 August 2009: accessed 11/06/11
Reference to a "happy or satisfactory life", from William Frankena's article "The Concept of Social Justice", cited in "All Animals Are Equal", Peter Signer, 1989:accessed 11/06/11
BBC Ethics Guide for the keeping of pets: accessed 11/06/11
Online debate "Why do human being keep pets?", The Guardian (Daniel Morgan cited): accessed 11/06/11
Article "Hamilton woman's dog cruelty ban welcomed", BBC News, 26 May 2011: accessed 11/06/11
Juliette Jowit, "Humans driving extinction faster than species can evolve, say experts", guardian.co.uk, 7 March 2010, accessed 17/8/11
Information on the problems of selective breeding: accessed 11/06/11
PETA argument for pet control and animal welfare: accessed 11/06/11
Statistics for European pet ownership: accessed 11/06/11
Statistics for USA pet ownership: accessed 11/06/11
Curate this debate
If you are an academic or highly knowledgeable about a particular debate could you give an hour or two a month to curate a debate?
Be a debatabase editor
Idebate needs editors from around the world to check, moderate and create content for debatabase and the site more generally. Editors are vital in making the site run smoothly and ensuring that debates are as informative as possible.